12 Tips Every First-Time Philadelphia Visitor Should Know

Wear comfortable shoes. Explore beyond cheesesteaks. Get involved in the art scene—and other tips for making the most of your trip to Philly.

Welcome to Philadelphia! You’re about to embark on a journey through history. While Philly is known for many things, there’s a lot more beneath the surface than just steak sandwiches and Rocky. To help you make the most of your trip, here are some tips you should know before you get here. Follow along and you’ll be a pro in no time.

1. Look Beyond Cheesesteaks and Soft Pretzels

While we would never steer someone away from trying a cheesesteak (hey, they’re delicious), it’s important to realize how vast Philly is in the food realm. National magazines have taken note, naming us a top culinary city and citing many of our local restaurants as “the best.” But beyond the accolades, Philly is as diverse as they come.

Head to Zahav for an authentic Israeli feast or Vedge for a complete vegan meal (without the vegan stereotype); find old school Italian dishes in the Italian Market or modern tapas at spots like Double Knot and Tria; enjoy an array of fast-casual dining at hotspots like HipCityVedge and Dizengoff; and of course, Reading Terminal Market has every type of food and more inside, a stop every visitor has to see.

Zahav

2. Take Advantage of the PHLASH

When exploring the sights, the Philly PHLASH is the way to go. From May through September, the bus operates every 15 minutes from 10 am-6 pm, switching over to weekend service through November 20 and then back to daily from November 25 through the end of the year. For just $2 per ride, or $5 for an all-day pass (with children under 4 and seniors free), the bus takes you to all the main sites, including Penn’s Landing, One Liberty Observation Deck, the National Constitution Center and more. Plus, it's painted purple so you can’t miss it.

Philly PHLASH

3. Bring Walking Shoes

Although some spots require transportation, Philly is mainly a walking city. Even if you stick to one neighborhood per day, walking from attraction to attraction (plus walking the attractions) requires you to be on your feet the majority of the time. So, ditch the heels and uncomfortable shoes in favor of lacing up those sneakers. You won’t regret it.

4. Learn about the Craft Beer and Liquor Scene

For those that enjoy a good drink, Philly is a great spot for you. Craft beers and locally made spirits have been rising in popularity for a few years now, but recently, they have exploded. Take a tour of the local breweries (Yards, Victory, Sly Fox) and distilleries (Federal Distilling, New Liberty Distillery, Red Brick Craft Distillery) or grab a seat at a bar and order an imaginative cocktail—just ask your bartenders for something local.

Bonus: if you want to spend a whole day exploring this scene, try out a tour like Philly on Tap or Philly Brew Tours.

Yards Brewing Company

5. Embrace the Outdoors

Fairmount Park has more than 9,200 acres perfect for hiking, biking, walking or having a picnic by the water. Even when it’s cold, it’s pretty (and vast) enough to take a drive through and check out. Parks also hide inside city limits, providing a refuge to the hustle and a calm place to retreat. And many have their own activities and attractions to keep kids and adults busy for hours.

6. Pay Attention to Signs

Keep your eyes peeled or you may miss them. Throughout the city, blue signs are scattered to explain the significance of seemingly insignificant things. As you walk around, take time to stop and read them, you just may be standing on a national landmark without even knowing it.

7. Familiarize Yourself With the Neighborhoods

Whether you’re staying in a hotel in Center City or with friends in Fishtown, plan time in your trip to explore other neighborhoods. Each one in Philly is unique and helps tell the story of the city as a whole. Go to Rittenhouse Square for upscale shopping and dining experiences, Old City for historic landmarks and top tourist attractions, East Passyunk for some of the best food in Philly, Fairmount for the Art Museum, plus other cultural institutions. In other words, don’t stick to one area—there’s so much to see!

For more info on Neighborhoods, check out our neighborhood itineraries.

Old City

8. Get Involved in the Local Art Scene

The Philadelphia Museum of Art should already be on everyone’s must-see list, but beyond that, Philly is full of amazing art institutions. Don’t miss The Barnes Foundation for post-impressionist paintings inside a gorgeous façade, the Rodin Museum for sculptures and the largest collection of Rodin’s work outside of Paris, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts for 19th- and 20th-century American work and so much more. Plus, more out-of-the-box art like Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, an outdoor mosaic garden and Mural Arts.

9. Explore Beyond the Liberty Bell

Before you keep reading, first things first: see the Liberty Bell. It’s iconic and it’s what makes Philly special. But, you may be surprised that seeing the bell only takes about 30 minutes (depending on how long the line is), so once you’ve accomplished that, check it off your list and discover other things. The Franklin Institute is an interactive science museum with innovative rotating exhibits; Eastern State Penitentiary is an old prison that lets you tour Al Capone’s cell; Penn’s Landing offers a great view of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and has year-round activities that rival any other in the city; and the Please Touch Museum is a great spot for kids. Plus, there are great things to see off the beaten path.

The Franklin Institute

10. Don’t Feel the Need to Spend

Touring the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall are both free, and many museums offer free days. To see more of these free and inexpensive things to do, check out our guide to Philadelphia on a budget.

11. Take a Tour

You may feel as though tours scream “tourist trap,” but in Philly, tours are some of the best ways to learn about the city. Hop on a double-decker bus and get a local’s perspective (and a great overview) of the city, board a trolley for the Mural Arts Tour to learn about the murals spread across the city (it’s hard to find them all without this tour!) or head to Philly Tour Hub and pick a tour that fits your interests—after a few hours with a guide, you’ll probably know more than most locals.

Mural Arts Tour

12. Plan Ahead and Enjoy Yourself

With so many attractions and restaurants, it can feel overwhelming to get everything done in one visit. But, if you plan accordingly, Philly is a very accessible town and it’s easy to get a taste of it in just one weekend. Enjoy your stay and don’t forget those walking shoes!